England question HK points and format
IRB Sevens World Series leaders England have questioned the fairness of offering extra points at the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens, along with the tournament's format, described by coach Ben Ryan as 'a bit of a lottery'.
With Hong Kong being the only 24-team tournament in the eight-leg series - the jewel in the crown, according to the IRB - it offers the champions 30 points, six more than any of the other seven legs which are all 16-team events.
'I am not sure if it is a fair thing that one tournament has a larger amount of points,' Ryan said. 'The extra points do make a big difference in the end.'
England, who are bidding to win their first IRB World Series crown, are tied with New Zealand on 80 points, at the top of the standings at the halfway stage. Reigning champions Samoa are in third place with Fiji on 64, while South Africa, winners of the last leg in Las Vegas, are fifth on 56 points.
'If you win Hong Kong, you are guaranteed you gain a little bit more space in front of the guys behind you, so that makes a big difference. But if you don't hit the last four in Hong Kong, you leave yourself with a mountain to climb for the rest of the season,' Ryan said.
While the losing finalists in Hong Kong get 25 points - five fewer than the champions - the two losing semi-finalists get 20 each. In all the other legs, the champions get 24 points, the losing finalists 20, and the losing semi-finalists 16 each.
Ryan also decried the system used to decide which two teams would join the six pool winners in the Cup quarter-finals during the March 25-27 tournament where they are pooled with the United States, Japan and China.
'I would, probably controversially, look at the structure of Hong Kong. I think the two reserves [two best second-place finishers] coming through from the top six pools, does sometimes turn it into a lottery on your draw,' he said.
'It is a little bit out of kilter with the rest of the series. It makes it unique and exciting, but going forward I think there needs to be a review on the overall format across all tournaments.'
IRB tournament operations manager Beth Coalter said when the series started in 1999-2000 the extra points were awarded to the Hong Kong event to recognise it was the largest tournament.
'This was a recognition to have their tournament stand out above the rest,' Coalter said yesterday. 'However, as the series has developed and the competition to win has become more intense, winning in Hong Kong, up until last year, meant the series had been won.
'The inclusion of the Shield and awarding more points to the Plate competition last year have helped in closing the gap and therefore making the remaining tournaments in the series all the more important to win.
'The format for Hong Kong, while exciting for the supporters in not knowing who the final two best second-placed teams from the pool rounds will be, means that in pool round matches, teams will rack up as many points as possible. Which is why in Hong Kong we generally see more high scoring games than in any other tournament in the series.'
Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory said: 'The fact that our tournament is unpredictable is what makes it so exciting. If you knew who you would play in the Cup quarter-finals, it would become boring.'
England, four-time winners in Hong Kong (the last in 2006), began the season with a bang when they won in Dubai. Led by evergreen Ben Gollings, England continued the good form by reaching subsequent finals in George, South Africa, and Wellington. They lost in the semi-finals in Las Vegas.